The Last of the Summer Harvest


We had our first hard frost last night. Just as the sun was setting I snuck out to the backyard to salvage any last frost-fragile offerings from my garden. I found several sweet peppers: some ripe and red, a couple in transition from green to red, and a few others still green. There were a number of tomatoes, both full size and cherry, in similar states of transition.

I love the fall. For me, it’s a season full of promise: an invigorating crispness enters the air, a new school year starts, the holidays are coming, and as the sun moves lower in the horizon the light is lovely.

My cooking undergoes a transition in fall as well. I start thinking of simmered dishes, soups and stews. Smoother, denser textures appeal to to me now: soft polenta, pureed potatoes and turnips, rutabagas, and Jerusalem artichokes. I crave gravies and slow-roasted vegetables and meats. What a fantastic season of transition and opportunity.

Take a walk. Snuggle up. Get cooking. Fall is here.

Stewed Peppers and Tomatoes over Soft Polenta

Serves 4

Ingredients for Stewed Peppers:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, cut into 1/2” thick slices, white and green as far up the stalk as soft
2 cups peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped into 1” pieces
1 cup tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely diced; red and transitioning to fully red okay
1/2 cup wine (white or red), stock, or water
1 1/2” stick cinnamon
1 good-sized sprig of rosemary
dash of red chili flakes to taste
salt & pepper

Directions for Stewed Peppers:

Rinse the leek slices in a bowl of cold water. Work the slices well with your fingers to separate the individual layers of slices. Get the dirt off of the slices as you do so (leeks grow in sandy soil; there is often dirt in the layers). Once clean, lift the leeks out of the water and place them in a strainer. The heavier dirt will have fallen to the bottom of the bowl. Do not pour the cleaned leeks and the water into a strainer. You will end up with gritty leeks.

Warm a medium-sized sauté pan (skillet) over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add the olive oil. Once that’s warm add the leeks. Stir until the leeks have softened. Do not brown them. If this happens, turn down the heat or pull the pan off the heat for a minute or two to slow the cooking process. Next, add the peppers. Stir and toss until they also soften. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon stick, rosemary, and chili flakes. Stir, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pan and simmer until the entire dish has become somewhat of a mess. Add a bit of water during the cooking process if need be. The vegetables should become very cooked down. The peppers and leeks should be soft, while the tomatoes providing a supportive flavor blanket for the entire mixture. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Ingredients for Polenta*:
1/2 cup medium ground cornmeal
1 cup stock, meat or vegetable
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk or cream (you may omit this and use more water or stock instead)
salt & pepper

Directions for Polenta:

Bring stock and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Combine cornmeal and milk. When the stock has come to a boil whisk in the cornmeal mixture, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the cornmeal mixture comes to a full boil. Big air bubbles of molten cornmeal porridge will occur. Watch out! Don’t get burned by the flying mixture. Immediately reduce the heat under the pot. Put the cornmeal mixture over a double boiler. Cover. Simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally if you can’t resist, but it’s not necessary. The polenta is done when it no longer tastes bitter.

Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Don’t be shy, porridge-y dishes like polenta need a lot of salt. You want to have every layer of your finished product as complete in taste and seasoning as possible. Each layer should be able to stand on its own so that, once combined, the dish will be balanced.

My suggestion is to serve this dish in bowls. Scoop servings of polenta into your serving bowls. Spoon the warm peppers on top. Garnish with additional sprigs of rosemary if available.

Satisfying fall food.

*I like to use chicken stock and milk in my polenta, but if you want to keep the dish vegetarian or vegan substitute vegetable stock and use water instead of milk.

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